Chapter Corner

Electrical Contractors' Unique Stake in the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC)

Posted in: Features, November/December 2014

Regardless of what part of the utility industry that they are in, electrical contractors are directly impacted by the National Electrical Safety Code® (NESC®) and its ongoing evolution. The code—from its work practices for employees, including the responsibilities of electrical contractors in relation to those of employers and host employers, to its detailed guidance on grounding, clearance issues, construction strength, and loading—in one way or another bears heavily on the daily work of elecrical contractors.

Now is the time for electrical contractors and any other concerned party to help shape the next, 2017 edition of the NESC. From September 1, 2014, to May 1, 2015, runs a period in which anyone can electronically submit comments on the “Preprint” of proposed changes to the current edition of the code. Ensuring that the NESC remains realistic, practical, and useful and in alignment with new developments, technologies, and challenges in the industry relies on stakeholders across the utility industry seizing their opportunity to provide their opinions and insights.

It is a particularly worthwhile endeavor for electrical contractors because no one has a more valuable perspective or has more at stake in the NESC than those workers with boots on the ground. The ongoing open commentary period is your opportunity to chime in on whether you agree or disagree with the proposed NESC changes and why.

100 YEARS OF SUCCESS IN THE FIELD

This year marks a major milestone for the NESC: 100 years and counting of successfully working within its scope to help to protect electrical contractors, as well as other utility workers and the public, during the installation, operation, and maintenance of electric supply and communication lines and their associated equipment. In continuous use in the United States since its inception (and increasingly so in a number of countries around the world at least in some fashion), the NESC today ranks as one of the most widely adopted safety codes. See an infographic on the NESC at http://standards.ieee.org/about/nesc/100/index.html.

The NESC applies to systems such as telephone, cable TV, and railroad signal systems at both public and private utilities; outlining basic safety provisions generally for outdoor delivery lines; and associated hardware and equipment. More precisely, the code applies from the point of generation of power or communications or the point of delivery from another entity, to its point of transfer to a premises wiring system.

The NESC is not an instruction manual, but its safety intelligence comes to bear in the work of electrical contractors in a variety of ways. State legislatures, public service commissions (PSCs), and other regulators widely adopt the code in whole or part, providing one primary avenue through which the NESC finds its way into the rules and practices of the power and communication utilities. In addition, the NESC is frequently referenced in apprenticeship programs, all-hands safety meetings, safety manuals, spot checks to ensure regulations are followed, “tailboard discussions,” and other elements of holistic safety programs that have been implemented among utilities. As such, electrical contractors find the safety provisions within the NESC to be pervasive throughout their daily work.

AN OPEN, ONGOING PROCESS OF REFINEMENT

Since 1972, IEEE has served as secretariat of the NESC. The IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) oversees an open, continual process of refinement that plays itself out over five years from the publication of one edition of the code to the publication of the next.

The current step in the process is an eight-month period of open commentary on the Preprint of proposed changes from the current 2012 edition of the code. Proposed revisions and comments received during this time will be considered by the appropriate NESC subcommittees as the refinement process plays out until the scheduled publication of the 2017 edition on August 1, 2016.

The Preprint of proposed changes for the 2017 edition of the NESC, which is made publicly available through the IEEE Standards Store (standards.ieee.org/store), address a wide range of critical areas, such as:

  • definitions for communications and electric-supply equipment and structure conflict;
  • clearance rules with regard to communication space above supply space;
  • elimination of an exemption in the code for structures and supported facilities no taller than 60 feet from rules for extreme wind and extreme ice with concurrent wind loading; and
  • harmonization of the NESC’s work rules with Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) CFR 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V final rulings.

Change proposals that were initially recommended to be accepted, in addition to those that were initially recommended to be rejected, (with associated details such as subcommittee vote, comments, etc.) are presented in the NESC Preprint.

The ongoing, eight-month window for open commentary by the public is intended to give abundant opportunity to read and digest the contents of the NESC’s preprint and scrutinize the change proposals’ impact in relation to the real-word experience of electrical contractors and other expertise in the field. What developments in equipment and processes have been missed? What new potential hazards have been overlooked? What in the code’s change proposals could be communicated more clearly?

You can visit the NESC website, http://standards.ieee.org/about/nesc/erp/index.html, to learn more about how to provide input during this period of open public commentary.

CONCLUSION

Technologies and work practices are constantly in flux in the utility industry, so the NESC is constantly being refined and improved to keep pace. Throughout its 100-year history, the code has continually evolved to stay current and relevant, and the impact has been quite literally the saving of lives.

Electrical contractors are among the stakeholders in the code who are most directly impacted by the NESC’s ongoing changes. Contractors are the ones out there using the code in the field every day, and a window is open now for contractors to weigh in with their thoughts about what does and what does not need to change when the 2017 edition of the code comes out. No less than the safety of your colleagues and the public at large stands to benefit from your uniquely valuable insights.

Mike Hyland is NESC chair and senior vice president of engineering services at the American Public Power Association (APPA).